“Good, ’bye!” Penn said happily and waved to her.
“She’s not going anywhere.” Daniel shot Penn a look, then walked to where Harper stood at the edge of the lawn. “What’s going on? Are you mad at me?”
“Why would I be mad at you?” Harper asked. “Just because I had one of the worst days of my entire life and you’re flirting with my mortal enemy? And she is literally a monster that wants to kill you and me and everyone we know, and you’re just chatting with her like old friends?”
Daniel shook his head. “That’s not at all what’s happening here, and you know it. You’re too smart to be jealous over something like this.”
“I’m not jealous,” Harper scoffed, and Penn snickered from where she stood by the sawhorses. “I’d feel about the same right now if I saw you helping Hitler redecorate. She is pure evil, and you shouldn’t be nice to her or hang out with her.”
“I hope you’d be a little more freaked out if I was helping Hitler, because he’d be a zombie,” Daniel said.
“Just never mind.” Harper turned and walked away from him.
“Harper, wait.” Daniel went after her, but she didn’t stop until she thought they were too far away for Penn to eavesdrop. Even then she only stopped because he took her arm. “Harper.”
“I told you to stay away from her,” Harper said. “And I did it for your own good. She’s going to kill you if you spend too much time with her. And you know it. Is it so wrong that I don’t want to see you end up dead?”
“No, but is it so wrong that I want to keep her happy so she doesn’t hurt you or Gemma?” Daniel asked. “Because that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m just keeping the peace, Harper.”
“I know, but…” Harper pushed back her hair. “Maybe it was a bad idea getting involved with you.”
“No.” Daniel shook his head. “I absolutely refuse to do this. Not today. Not ever. You can’t just go into that mode again.”
“What mode?” Harper asked.
“The one where you say you can’t see me to protect me or some crap like that.” He waved it off. “We discussed it before, remember? You don’t have the right to tell me what I choose to do.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Harper asked. “I’m supposed to let you flirt with the devil?”
“I’m not flirting,” Daniel corrected her. “And yes, you’re supposed to let me do what I need to do to keep us all safe. And I let you do the same.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, Daniel,” Harper admitted.
“Look, it’s really hot out,” Daniel said. “Why don’t you go to Pearl’s, get yourself something to drink, and cool off? I’ll be down in a little bit, and you can tell me about your awful morning.”
“What about Penn?” Harper asked.
“What about her?” Daniel asked. “We’re out in broad daylight. She’s not going to eat my heart today.”
“Okay,” Harper relented. “I’ll meet you at Pearl’s in a few minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes, tops.” Daniel was already backing away. “I just have to put my tools away.”
Sighing, she took his advice and walked the few blocks down to Pearl’s. Part of her wanted to go back and help Daniel clean up his tools, but that was just to be sure that Penn left him alone.
Harper hadn’t really thought Penn would hurt Daniel, not in the middle of the afternoon in public, nor did she think that Daniel had any attraction to Penn.
He was right, and in the long term it would be good to stay in Penn’s good graces. But Harper just couldn’t believe that any good could come from being friends with Penn.
As soon as she pushed the door open to Pearl’s, the air-conditioning sent a refreshing chill over her, and she already felt a bit better. The idea to take a walk in the suffocating heat had been a bad one, but the cooler temperature of the diner was well on its way to correcting her mistake.
Harper pulled up a stool at the counter, sat on the cracked vinyl, and ordered a glass of ice water. When Daniel came in, she’d probably order something more, but for now, rehydrating and cooling off were her main priorities.
“You should take a swim,” a husky voice said from beside her.
With her glass of ice water pressed to her cheek, Harper hadn’t been paying attention to who was coming or going in the diner. She lowered the glass and glanced over to see Thea climbing up on the stool next to her.
“I don’t like swimming,” Harper replied. She sat up straighter and stirred her water with the straw.
“You really are the exact opposite of your sister.” Thea set her purse on the counter. She rummaged through it for a second before taking out a hair tie. As she spoke, she leaned back and pulled her long red hair up into a ponytail. “The two of you are night and day.”
“What about you?” Harper gave her a sidelong glance. “How much are you and your sister alike?”
“What can I get for you today?” Pearl asked Thea, interrupting their conversation.
“Just a cherry malt.” Thea smiled sweetly at her.
Pearl smiled back at her, but seemed to flounder for a minute, like a starstruck teenager meeting her idol. Even without using her song, Thea still had the power to captivate men and women alike.
“The bonds between sisters are very complex things,” Thea said once Pearl had left to fill her order. She rested her arms on the faded counter and looked over at Harper. “You must understand that better than anyone.”
“I suppose I do,” Harper agreed.
“You and I really have a lot in common,” Thea went on. “Like you, I’m the oldest.”
“Penn is younger than you?” Harper asked, glancing over at her.
“Yeah,” Thea said. Pearl brought her the malt, and Thea politely thanked her. She took a long sip before speaking to Harper again. “Most people think that Penn is older. It’s a common misconception.”
“She’s pretty bossy,” Harper said.
“That’s my fault.” Thea smiled sadly. “Our mothers weren’t around when we were children, leaving me to essentially raise Penn and Aggie. Penn was the youngest, and I overindulged her.”
“I can understand that.” Harper propped her chin up on her hand and watched Thea. “But that was a very long time ago. If Penn turned out to be a spoiled brat, why haven’t you corrected it?”